Close scorelines were in short supply during NRL Round 9, but the surplus of boilovers, drama, intrigue and talking points kept rugby league fans’ cups filled to the brim over the weekend.
Adam Reynolds got his belated revenge game, the Panthers suffered their first defeat and lost top spot to the record-breaking Storm, another Trbojevic put his name up in lights, and the Sharks carved a niche in club folklore.
Meanwhile, the Eels re-emerged as a bona fide contender, the third-placed Cowboys pieced together four straight wins for the first time since reaching the 2017 grand final courtesy of a 20-point defeat of the embattled Knights, and the Roosters and Sea Eagles got back into the black with comfortable victories over bottom-four opposition.
1 – Revenge Round
After COVID ruled him out of Brisbane’s season-opening upset of South Sydney, Adam Reynolds grasped the opportunity to ram home the Rabbitohs’ folly in cutting loose their greatest-ever halfback, all-time top point-scorer and second-most capped player ever.
Reynolds toyed with his former team as the Broncos powered to a 32-12 victory, scoring a try, producing two try-assists, steering his team around with consummate expertise and kicking six-from-six while the Bunnies continue to deal with the growing pains of replacing a club legend linchpin with a rookie.
Perhaps most encouragingly for the Broncos – who have shortened to $1.85 to reach the finals – their depleted engine-room outplayed Souths’ vaunted pack despite the absence of Payne Haas.
The Rabbitohs are just $1.40 to make the eight, but currently sit in ninth with a 4-5 record and under pressure to put away the Warriors in Magic Round.
Several other players around the NRL also enjoyed ultra-satisfying wins over exes.
Cut loose by Canterbury last September after a string of off-field incidents, makeshift hooker Adam Elliott played a prominent role in Canberra’s ugly-but-important 14-4 defeat of the Bulldogs on Friday.
Parramatta bookend Reagan Campbell-Gillard enjoyed his first win at Penrith since leaving the Panthers in 2019, while Manly’s Josh Aloiai scored a vital barnstorming try against a Wests Tigers outfit he left in bitter circumstances 18 months ago.
The Dragons will be ruing letting junior Tyran Wishart get away after the son-of-an-Illawarra-gun hooker/halfback starred as a replacement centre in the Storm’s 42-6 romp on Sunday
2 – Parra Matters
Fans and pundits were furiously collecting timber to board up Parramatta’s premiership window in the wake of an insipid Round 8 loss to North Queensland.
But the Eels resurfaced as the biggest threat to a seemingly inevitable Penrith-Melbourne grand final quinella via a breath-taking 22-20 victory at the foot of the mountains on Friday to inflict the defending premiers’ first defeat of 2022.
It was far from an easy day at the office with the blue-and-golds overcoming bad calls, a massive defensive workload on their own line early in the second half and a four-point deficit to snare a famous win.
The Eels’ blue-chip spine was marvellous, Junior Paulo, Isaiah Papali’i and Ryan Matterson were immense, and a patched-together backline stood up under enormous pressure.
Parramatta boasts the distinction of being the only team to beat the Storm AND the only team to beat the Panthers in 2022, with both upsets achieved on the road in matches of the highest quality.
The giant-killing wins provide an invaluable reservoir of resolve to draw upon as the Eels – on the third line of premiership betting at $8 – look to overcome the finals fadeouts of recent years.
3 – Shorthanded Sharks’ Win For The Ages
If you missed Will Kennedy’s send-off for a WWE-style clothesline on Reece Walsh and the little red dash above the Sharks’ name on the score graphic, you’d have had little idea Cronulla played a man short for 64 minutes (and 11 on 13 for another second-half spell) against the Warriors.
The Sharks’ became the first team since 2008 to win an NRL match after having a player marched – but you’d have to go back much further to find a 12-man victory as emphatic or stirring as Sunday’s 29-10 triumph.
The Warriors grabbed a 10-6 lead thanks to a pair of pieces of Walsh brilliance in the five minutes after Kennedy’s dismissal but were held scoreless by the stoic Sharks thereafter.
As a collective unit, the hosts played intelligent, hard footy – with Nicho Hynes providing the polish – and illustrated the gritty edge rookie coach Craig Fitzgibbon has instilled in the side.
It’s the sort of performance the Sharks can draw upon when the chips are down in the finals pressure cooker – and underlines their value as a $2.25 Top 4 chance and $10 for the premiership.
Meanwhile, the gormless Warriors’ inability to capitalise on their gift-wrapped advantage and capitulating so horrendously is being hailed as more of an embarrassment than their 70-10 Anzac Day defeat in Melbourne.
Walsh and Matt Lodge were shining exceptions in a disjointed team effort worthy of wholesale Team List Tuesday changes.
Foremost in the firing line was veteran Shaun Johnson, whose golden point heroics have masked an ordinary month.
The veteran No.7 appeared flustered, frustrated and unwilling to take responsibility for bailing out the Warriors’ sinking vessel.
The Warriors have been extremely fortunate to chalk up four wins – they could easily be languishing at 1-7 – and the signs are ominous heading into a tough section of their draw, blowing out to $6 to make the Top 8.
The nomadic club hasn’t beaten anyone resembling a top-quality team since 2018 and it seems only a matter of time before fans and the media turn up the blowtorch on Nathan Brown.
4 – Points Fest
Going against the general 2022 grain, the over proved a profitable play during Round 9 with six games rocketing past the total points line.
Six games were decided by 13+ and just one by a single-digit margin – again bucking the season trend of tight contests.
The only underdogs to cover the line – the Broncos (+12) and Eels (+13.5) – also came away with momentous upset wins.
While the blowout factor that tainted the 2021 premiership has been tamed by the NRL’s rule tweaks, Melbourne is still on a historic pointscoring tear.
The Storm’s 42-6 thrashing of a St George Illawarra side that competed admirably for 55 minutes or so gave them 166 points from their past three games, while their 335 points to date breaks the incomparable 1935 Eastern Suburbs combination’s all-time record for most points after nine rounds.
Melbourne’s eye-watering for-and-against figure also edged it ahead of Penrith and into top spot on the NRL ladder – just in time for the heavyweights’ massive Magic Round showdown on Saturday night.
The Panthers remain $3 title favourites ahead of the Storm ($3.50), who are sweating on the severity of Ryan Papenhuyzen’s hamstring injury.
5 – Oh Brother
Jake and Tom Trbojevic already rank as one of the great rugby league sibling duos, but the illustrious pair will have to share the limelight with younger brother Ben from now on.
In just his sixth NRL game and first start, the 20-year-old back-rower scored two tries and set up another in Manly’s 36-22 defeat of Wests Tigers.
The tyro’s breakout performance creates a pleasant headache for Des Hasler, who will be absolutely flush with back-rowers when Haumole Olakau’atu, Josh Schuster and Karl Lawton are all available again.
‘Burbo’s’ ability to slot in at centre may give him the jump in the battle for a spot in a full-strength Sea Eagles 17.
The Trbojevic family dynasty angle helped divert some attention away from the news Kieran Foran will join Gold Coast at the end of the season.
Foran has been in sublime touch since returning to the northern beaches last year.
While he’ll be 32 by the time he lobs in Queensland and has a chequered injury history, the Titans blatantly need some experience and class in the spine.
The finals ship already looks to have sailed for the 2-7 Titans, last season’s eighth-placed bolters, after a 44-16 beatdown from the previously clunky Roosters.